In 2018, I slept better. All the way to the 365th night. It was a good, long sleep last night. Even the midnight celebrations in the neighbourhood failed to break it. For the rest, as usual, it seems to be a mixed bag of spectacular failures and successes. This is how it seems to always go. Among the major changes is that I boomeranged back to the town where my parents live. That proverbial balance was struck in 2017 – half home, half elsewhere. To top it up, I managed to buy a small farm, less than a marathon’s distance away from our little town in Central India. There’s plenty that came on board with that little decision to keep a part of life away from the city and place it back into villages and small towns.
George Dyson in his new year essay wrote that Individual agency is on the wane. Most of us, most of the time, are following instructions delivered to us by computers rather than the other way around. The overwhelming presence of codes and instructions drove my life in 2018. Lifestyle, work, personal life… all engulfed by mobile apps, devices and computers. Digital living knocked a level up, more digital now than ever. So much that there has been a disposition to type-in a daily journal than write it in a notebook. I continue to oscillate between the two. And this struggle with digital and analog life continued in 2018. The farm though, was a move to counter the digital. But often, it feels like a Luddite to try and keep devices away, when in fact work is made possible and conducted primarily on computers and the internet. Maybe, I am on the usual curve of digital adoption, flooding out, combating and limited engagement.
January begins with a full marathon at Mumbai. It makes a good start to a new calendar. I clocked better time which set the spirit for future runs through the year. However, January needed reassurances. There weren’t many. PhD applications were tanking, one by one. The troughs of professional and academic life ended up having a destructive interference with personal crests. I’d have a great run, a good timing, a great travel experience or a fantastic trek, feeling high on it, and return to my mailbox to read yet another rejection mail. So, to borrow from physics, this year was about destructive interference of waves, although the resultant wave was flat, which helped in continuing with efforts. One balanced out the other.
What I learn this year is to not abandon. To keep at it. My PhD applications pitched a study of workers’ rights and workplace safety in gigeconomy. It turned out that either this wasn’t a focus in some university departments and in some places my profile didn’t make the cut. Next best thing was to pick up that proposal and do it myself! This has been the best decision in 2018. I pitched a research idea, when no takers were found I got on to it in my own small way. With this, a foot in academia was set again. In Q4 of 2018 I began as a research associate at NLS and loving it.
In consulting work, we made good headway into Nepal and getting involved in water and sanitation policies at a regional level. Work visits to Nepal have been very enriching. In the last three years, we have seen a small country transition into democracy, go along the curve of power concentration, then power distribution and now power redistribution by the way of local governance reforms similar to the 72nd and 73rd amendment in India. With this, my interest in small nation states gained traction. Over 2018, traveled to a couple of them and tried to get some preliminary exposure to places and life in these countries. I guess somewhere along there is fancy for the kind of work and travel that Jan Chipchase does at his firm.
What I miss though is being a part of a school and hanging out with kids doing activities and learning together. Hopefully, this year I get to keep some time to get working in a school again. Or at least, work with school teachers and in primary education in some capacity.
For run and outdoor sports, this was a good year. While I outran Ladakh’s shadow of unfinished run in 2017, I ended up hopeless, DNFing by the end of this year again. Now this DNF at a 100 miler shadows future runs. However, the learning has been tremendous and that needs a blog post of its own. Cycling got off to a jump start with a new acquisition and 2019’s calendar is already getting populated with brevets. A combination of cycling and running might also serve a good cross-training for a 100 mile attempt again. Also, I feel confident of going for a triathlon this year, although swimming remains very weak.
A friend messaged that she liked how I set unrealistic goals and go after it. I was miffed at the use of unrealistic. It seemed like a personal comment. It is likely that I took it personally because the 100 mile run attempt left me wrecked, physically and mentally. I camped out in the desert for a couple of nights to straighten this out and reflect. In the effort I had missed out to slow down and live the experience. I was running. But the key was to run and walk and repeat. To that effect, 2018 leaves me better in one respect – to attempt. To go on attempting. For some, confidence of serial successes might work well. It works differently for me. I had lost the ability to go full throttle and attempt things. That changed in 2018. Repeated failures at whatever I attempted has helped regain that spirit to attempt and not mind the outcome. This reminds me of the two narratives, that M Knight Shyamlan spoke of in his Drexel commencement speech – one of success and the other of spaces in between that narrative of success which is filled with self-doubt.
On reading front, I hoarded a whole lot of books and left many unfinished. This has been a year of Hindi reading. I could complete anthologies of short stories, poems and essays, by writers in Hindi. This year, I trawled the world of Hindi literature and had an almost awakening kind of experience. Makhanlal Chaturvedi, Kunwar Narayan, Dharamvir Bharti, Krishna Kumar, Muktibodh, Dushyant… each one of them revealed a world as thought a blindfold was being untied. The richness of text and thought was overwhelming and offered a good contrast to the flatness that I read in the way of regular, bestseller, prize-winner variety of literature in English.
Regional writing was also high this year with my travels in East Africa, Eastern Europe and Indian Ocean region. If the world felt a small place in terms of travel and access to distant places in matter of hours, it felt an expansive universe. Instead of travel time and technology, I dived into literature and writing. There is a dull feeling that consumes every time I am off the plane and into a new place. Instead, I read and filled that lack of gradual transition and process of arrival. From Olga Tockarzuk’s Poland, to Antal Szerb’s Budapest and to the overwhelming variety of poetry and short stories from the African subcontinent. These were revelations, interspersed throughout the year.
The urge to fit in a lot within the time at hand continues. This kicks quality out. This year I tried a combination, sometimes fitting in a lot and ending up doing some of them badly and in some months doing only one thing at a time. Mind’s still not made up about either of the approaches. Slowing down or fitting in a lot, I think gets relative to one’s stage in life and current context. While I missed out on the delights of slow, deep and engaged reading, I managed to get started in areas that I know would benefit from early start, like labour research and ultrarunning.
In 2018, I learnt not to despair.
Happy New Year to readers!